In the last fifteen years, the body of publications, conferences and research projects shedding light on the political role and artistic patronage of the Orsini family has considerably increased. By offering the first catalogue of the Medagliere Orsini, now preserved at the Musei Capitolini in Rome, this lavishly-illustrated volume enriches our knowledge of this prestigious noble clan from an original perspective. The first part of the book features three essays, each one complemented by an appendix of selected archival documents. The first essay reconstructs the complex history of the Orsini collection of ancient coins and modern medals between the death of the last Duke of Bracciano, Flavio Orsini (1620–1698), and the acquisition of what was left of the collection by the Municipio di Roma in 1902. The second essay focuses on the collecting interests of some members of the Orsini family. Here, the limited availability of archival sources sometimes results in a fragmented narrative, particularly in the case of Virginio II Orsini (1572–1515). Unlike his father, Paolo Giordano I (1541–1585), and his son, Paolo Giordano II (1591–1656), Virginio II seems to have been immune to the fascination of collecting and the commissioning of medals, and only one seal previously in his possession is now included in the Medagliere Orsini. The third essay, which is based on a large corpus of unpublished documents, offers interesting insights on Paolo Giordano II’s patronage and on the celebrative medals commissioned by Pope Benedict XIII Orsini (1649–1730). In particular, the author provides new evidence on Paolo Giordano II’s relationship with artists such as Giovanni Campagna and Gaspare Mola. Amendola’s research confirms that the Duke of Bracciano was not only an enthusiastic patron of the arts, but also a dilettante, who drew, painted, and modelled. Paolo Giordano II’s interest in self-portraiture is demonstrated by his gift of three self-portraits – one made with the brush, one with the hands, and another with the toes – to Cardinal Mazarin in 1646: see the present author’s article in Studiolo no. 10 (2013). However, Amendola’s suggestion that the duke also designed his own portrait on the obverse of cat. nos 21 and 22, and the portrait of his wife, Isabella Appiani, on the obverse of cat. no. 23, is intriguing but requires additional evidence. Bartholomeus Breenbergh’s drawing representing Paolo Giordano II bathing in the Lake Bracciano, described as in an unknown location, is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (rp-t-1967–73). The catalogue of the Medagliere Orsini occupies the second part of the book. It includes fifty-two entries dedicated to medals, and seventeen entries for plaquettes and seals. Each entry provides technical information, biographical details of the sitter represented on the obverse (often with useful comparisons with paintings, sculptures and engravings), and an interpretation of the image on the reverse. Here, I think that only the motto on the reverses of cat. nos 11, 12, and 21, is to be connected to Clarice Orsini (1453–1488), the wife of Lorenzo il Magnifico; the figurative part of the device – a bush of roses with flowers at different stage of blossoming – seems in fact to be inspired by Virginio II’s personal device, designed by Vincenzo Ruscelli and published in 1584 in Girolamo Ruscelli’s Le imprese illustri. For many medals, especially the oldest ones, Amendola has faced a lack of information about their date, author, the occasion of their commission, and the identity of their patron; whenever possible, he has filled these gaps with interesting suggestions; occasionally, some hypotheses might have benefitted from further discussion and additional evidence. It is unclear, for instance, why cat. no. 19 is dated to the eighteenth century, since the comparisons suggested for the iconography of the bear embracing the column, on reverse, are dated to the seventeenth century. It is also difficult to share Amendola’s confidence in identifying the sitter of the painting at p. 238, attributed by him to Ottavio Leoni, on the basis of the resemblance with Isabella Appiani’s profile on the obverse of cat. no. 23. The aim of such a publication is to raise questions while trying to provide answers. This volume sheds light on previously unknown episodes of Orsini patronage; discusses the role played by medals in the wider context of the Roman artistic production; and unveils overlooked partnerships between seventeenth- and eighteenth-century designers, painters, and sculptors. At the same time, it offers new documentary evidence that can be fruitfully used to investigate the relationship between design and objects, and in particular between ritratti di bronzo and portraits in other media. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of the History of Collections – Oxford University Press
Published: May 19, 2018
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